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The Political Response To Tragedy And The Conversation We Should Be Having

I’ll admit, I haven’t been comfortable with how quickly the Aurora shooting has been used as a jumping-off point for political debate. But beyond a mere discussion of gun control, there is a political conversation we should be having right now. We need to look at this not just in the context of firearms, but in the context of tragedy, and how we as a nation react to tragedy.

One of the most powerful emotions that helps shape our national politics is safety, or, at least, the feeling of safety. That’s why in the past ten years, we have seen all sorts of heightened security measures implemented by the TSA. Right after the 9/11 attacks, it was understood that airport security had to be beefed up in order to prevent tragedies like that from happening again. Now we have enough distance to be able to think about it rationally, and a vast majority of Americans actually said they opposed the TSA’s upgraded security procedures in 2010, including the introduction of full body scanners.

But in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, our rational brains are overshadowed by our fears. When a terrorist gets a bomb into an airport or shoots innocent people in a movie theater, we want to feel reassured that something so horrible could never happen to any of us. That’s why pundits like Piers Morgan were so quick to have the gun control conversation. Maybe more gun control isn’t the answer, but when faced with tragedy, it’s hard for us to accept the idea that something so horrible could have happened without a root cause. If there is a single root cause of a tragic event like this, then the solution is to narrow in on that root cause and do something about it.

That’s why AMC has banned masks in its theaters. Does this sound like it will produce any real results in the long run? It’s doubtful. But they know they need to do something to make patrons feel safer. Movie theaters have been working with Homeland Security to bring added security to their establishments. A week ago today, if someone had posed the question “Do you feel movie theaters are a safe place?” we would have likely answered “Yes.”

And then there’s the gun control debate. To many people, it seems ridiculous that the shooter could have acquired 6000 rounds of ammunition. And certainly we can debate the merits of what is legal when it comes to purchasing and owning firearms. But gun rights groups have the same concerns now that civil liberties groups did when the government was trying to implement all sorts of heavy-handed airport security proposals following 9/11. There are probably some reasonable gun control laws that everyone agrees should be on the books, but gun rights groups may have legitimate concerns that in the heat of the moment, people may seek to turn this tragedy into a political referendum on guns. (Not that this will actually happen. The Democrats haven’t exactly picked up the ball on this issue.)

Safety is always a relative concept, and you are never going to come up with a one-size-fits-all political solution that will make everyone feel safe 100 percent of the time. So the question we should be asking isn’t “What must be done about gun control?” It needs to be “How far are we willing to go in order to feel safer?”

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Follow Josh Feldman on Twitter: @feldmaniac

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